Dial M For Murder – Review

There’s nothing better than a good whodunnit to get audiences back to the theatre and Dial M For Murder, which opened in Milton Keynes Theatre last night at the resumption of its post lockdown tour, provides the perfect Covid antidote.

A lot of theatre-goers will remember Hitchcock’s famous take on the 1950s Frederick Knott play which had Ray Milland’s washed up tennis ace, Tony Wendice, intent on doing away with his ice-blonde wife Margot (played by archetypal icy blonde, Grace Kelly).

Here director Anthony Banks has moved the action forward to 1963 and to a chic Maida Vale garden flat complete with crittall patio doors, spider plants, an album collection and, sitting centre stage, the unassuming star of the production, a lovely old-style telephone.

David Woodhead’s smart design is topped off with an excellent selection of pop hits from the era which, sadly, fade into a whisper as the production’s underscoring. They’re so quiet that you’re not sure if they’re even supposed to be heard, which is a shame.

But, back to the action. This isn’t so much a whodunnit as a ‘will he get away with it?’ Tom Chambers, who excels in playing suave charmers, serves up a rather flaky Tony Wendice, who, this being the 1960s, you might think has been imbibing illicit substances.

He appears an off-the-wall nut-job, doing a quick soft shoe shuffle around the flat, with erratic behaviour and even stranger mannerisms. How wealthy socialite Margot hasn’t twigged that something’s amiss is a genuine mystery.

But then, sadly, poor Diana Vickers is burdened with a character who is little more than a plot device. If anything dates this thriller it is the blonde at its heart who is a whimpering, hysterical, vulnerable little thing – just how Hitchcock liked them and how they were once perceived.

Margot is nothing more than a vacuous plaything for her playboy husband and she defers to him for everything.

Wendice has spent a year plotting his wife’s demise in a bid to get his hands on her inheritance and Knott has come up with a humdinger of a scheme.

The tennis player blackmails a chancer called Swann, an old alumnus (Christopher Harper, sporting a nice roll neck and terrible moustache), to break in a kill his wife while Tony gives himself the perfect alibi.

But, you know how these things go. We’re only 40 minutes into the play so you just know that there’s going to be a plot twist or three.

Dial M For Murder really comes to life in the second act when Harper returns (minus ‘tache but wearing glasses) as the investigating cop, Inspector Hubbard.

Will he crack the case? A game of cat and mouse ensues – with both Chambers and Harper thoroughly enjoying themselves on stage.

Hubbard, oddly, throws a few Elvis moves and comes up with a very convoluted bit of business involving a door key while Margot’s thriller-writer lover, Max (Michael Salami), an old hand at TV crime dramas, works out the finer details.

It’s all jolly good fun and just the sort of escapist caper to tempt audiences back to the theatre. It’s well acted and engaging despite the plot being somewhat contrived and showing its age.

Dial M For Murder runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday.

Dial M For Murder
  • Dial M For Murder
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Dial M For Murder

Dial M For Murder is an cracking thriller to get audiences back to the theatre. 

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